The Mountaineers put on the pads for the first time Thursday, and pitted its two most experienced areas directly against each other on the offensive and defensive lines. Not only does WVU return the Big 12's sack leader in end Noble Nwachukwu, it also has an All-Big 12 center in Tyler Orlosky. It returns two of three starters on defense, and a nose tackle in Darrien Howard with 25 career games played.
"Las year we were hardly ever talked about," defensive line coach Bruce Tall said. "I told our guys that we were the X factor, and we ended up becoming that. Now, this year we become the experienced group. Now we have to lead up front. That's where it starts."
Same for an offense which brings back essentially the entire starting crew from much of last season, with Adam Pankey and Kyle Bosch flanking Orlosky and Yodny Cajuste and Marcell Lazard on the outside. It makes for one of the most intriguing unit vs. unit battles in the preseason, and one that should elevate the play of both sides. The difference in how this competition will develop in contrast with some of the other positions is that at very few times will this feature purely one-on-one tests.
Sure, Noble Nwachukwu and Cajuste will tangle to see if, indeed, Cajuste's pass protection has improved, or if Nwachukwu can harass the backfield at will. Howard and Orlosky will literally go head-to-head at times, though there will certainly be guard help as needed. But it won't be the same as a corner challenging a wideout on a per-play basis. This will develop into a much more group-oriented venture, with Christian Brown using Howard's potential demand of a double team to create opportunities for himself, or for Panky and Cajuste to come off the ball effectively enough that it eliminates any chance for the line to make the play.
"We gotta build everything and take advantage of our experience," Tall said. "You can't simulate experience, but now we have it."
Those challenges also extend to special teams, when many of the same players will match up with one another on field goal protection and block. Same with punt and punt coverage. It's a grind that is also likely to create more than one tussle during practice, as much of the same players butt heads series after series, snap after snap.
"Hopefully we'll know a lot more after today when we get the pads on and hit somebody," offensive line coach Ron Crook said. Take a listen to both coaches, featured here, as they detail some of their plans for early development during the fall session, and their goals and concerns for the coming weeks.